Review: What car in the $20000-range is best for my graduating son with a new sales job? – The Globe and Mail

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The Toyota Yaris and the Honda Fit are both great options.Dave Miller/The Globe and Mail

My son is graduating from university this summer and his new sales job requires him to have a car. His driving record is okay, but not perfect and we’re nervous about insurance, so we’re skewing to vehicles that will be insurance friendly. Our budget (if we pay cash) is about $21,000. For that we would consider a new “basic” econo-something or a lightly used, highly reliable, low-mileage vehicle. It needs to be good on gas and repair as he’s making entry-level money.

My approach is reliability over style, as he’s a newbie at his job and can’t afford to miss work because of vehicle problems. It’s been a long time since I bought a used car, so please add your thoughts on buying from a dealer or private.James

Mark Richardson: I can tell it’s been a while since James bought a car. He won’t get anything new for $21,000 once he’s paid the taxes, I’m afraid. A used car that’s low mileage and reliable will also be a stretch. He should find a medium-level used car though – a classic starter vehicle.

Petrina Gentile: Unfortunately you’re right. It’s sad – a few years ago, you could get a cheap, small and affordable car like a Nissan Micra, Mazda2 or a Honda Fit, but they’ve been discontinued as our love affair with more expensive, bigger vehicles took hold.

Richardson: The Honda Fit, though – if James can find a used model, will be reliable and in his price range. His son probably won’t impress too many admirers, but it’s practical for carrying stuff, if his sales job needs that.

Gentile: A used Fit is a great option – it’s practical, fuel-efficient and reliable. There are a few used Fits on Autotrader.ca, 2016-2018 models that are in the $16,000-$18,000 range in Ontario. In most cases, the mileage is more than 100,000 kilometres. But James shouldn’t be too worried – Hondas usually go for a long time.

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Honda Fit.Dave Miller/The Globe and Mail

Richardson: A Fit is not an exciting vehicle, but if it’s been maintained properly, it should be good for at least 250,000 kilometres. Look for regular oil changes and servicing at the recommended intervals and no crash damage, and the car should be fine. It will cost more from a dealer, but a rusty buyer like James will get some peace of mind from the regulations that dealers must adhere to.

Gentile: And James isn’t looking for an exciting vehicle for his son – a “basic” econo-something and the Fit fits the bill. No pun intended.

Richardson: What do you think about buying from a dealer compared to buying privately? We don’t know which province James is in, and provincial regulations to protect the purchase aren’t all the same.

Gentile: Honestly, I haven’t always had the best experiences in a dealership. I prefer buying privately. But you have to do your homework. In Ontario, you should buy a used vehicle information package to see if there are any liens or accidents registered against the vehicle and bring a mechanic or someone who understands cars when you’re taking it for a test drive.

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Toyota Yaris.Dave Miller/The Globe and Mail

Richardson: I always recommend buying through a dealership if you’re not experienced at purchasing cars, because of the protection offered in most provinces. If you buy privately from somebody you don’t know, it can be risky if you’re not sure what to look for or what questions to ask. Do your diligence beforehand, though: check the reputation of the dealership and check fair prices of comparable vehicles.

Gentile: You’ll definitely save more money going the private route, but as mentioned, there are risks. But let’s move on and give James some other used options. Perhaps a used Toyota Yaris?

Richardson: Sure. Reliability is important to James, and it’s even more so when he’s looking at vehicles that already have some mileage on them and are no longer under warranty. Toyota and Honda lead the way for reliability, and a Yaris is one of the most affordable of Toyota’s vehicles. Not exciting, but like the Fit, it’ll be fine.

Gentile: And on Autotrader.ca you can find several used 2016-2019 models in the $16,000-18,000 price range, which is in the right price range for James.

Richardson: James is concerned about insurance costs, and every car is different for every driver. My plain-Jane Honda Civic cost more to insure than my more powerful Hyundai Tucson, because it’s more desirable to thieves, apparently, but it also depends on where you live. When James narrows his choices, he should call a broker or a company for quotes – before buying.

Gentile: Good idea. Let’s give James one more used car option. Maybe a Mazda2 – what do you think?

Richardson: The Mazda2 will probably be less expensive than the Toyota or Honda because Mazda doesn’t have that hard-earned reputation for reliability. That said, I haven’t heard of any Mazda2s causing headaches for their owners, and it was introduced long after the company solved its problems for rusting bodywork. The car is basically a re-badged Yaris, in any case.

Gentile: A lot of the models available online are older – between 2011 and 2014 Mazda2s, but they cost significantly less than the Fit and Yaris so it might be worth a look, averaging between $7,000-$12,000, depending on model and mileage.

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2014 Mazda2.

Richardson: Of course they’re less, because they’re that much older. The Mazda2 stopped selling in Canada in 2015, and I think if James can find a later model, his son might be happy with it. It doesn’t have quite the inside space of the Fit, nor the solid reputation of the Yaris, but it should still be reliable and won’t scare any insurance agencies.

Gentile: You’re right. But of the three, the Honda Fit is my favourite because of its spacious cabin and cargo area, fuel efficiency and excellent reliability track record. What about you?

Richardson: I also like the Fit. I’ve recommended it to a few people over the years and nobody’s been unhappy with their purchase. I think it feels a little zippier than the Yaris too. But the Toyota would be my second choice, and then the Mazda.

Gentile: I agree. I’ve recommended the Fit to a few friends and seniors and they love it, too. I wish Honda would bring it back.

What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at [email protected] and use ‘What car’ as part of your subject line. Emails with different subject lines may not be answered.

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